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This Blinding Absence of Light [Paperback]

Tahar Ben Jelloun
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Sep 2005

In this extraordinary non-fiction novel, based on a true story, Tahar Ben Jelloun traces the experiences of Salim who, in 1971, took part in a failed coup attempt to oust King Hassan II of Morocco. With sixty others Salim was incarcerated in a secret prison complex in the Moroccan desert: he was to remain there for nearly twenty years.

In starkly eloquent, beautiful prose, Ben Jelloun relates the prisoners' experiences as they struggle to survive. The son of a witty, feckless courtier who disowns him, Salim tells stories to keep sane - from the suras of his beloved Koran to the plot of A Streetcar Named Desire. Even in the darkest, most terrible conditions, sympathy, insight, the human quest for meaning and understanding, never desert Salim. The resulting novel is a wrenching yet exquisite celebration of the human spirit and its determination to survive.

'A masterpiece' Judges of the IMPAC award

'a sad and splendid book' New York Times Book Review

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (1 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141022825
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141022826
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 135,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


'A life-affirming work of astonishing authority' -- Independent

'Magnificent' -- Guardian

'Unforgettable … one of the great novels of incarceration and endurance' -- Independent

‘A gripping though unsettling novel . . . shocking for its lack of sentimentality’ -- Financial Times

‘A joy to read … magnificent’ -- Guardian

‘A magisterial work … one of the most beautiful, humbling and important books most of us are likely to read’ -- Irish Times

‘An unforgettable work of art … this is one of the great novels of incarceration and endurance’ -- Independent

‘One of the most beautiful, humbling and important books most of us are likely ever to read’ -- Irish Times

‘Remarkable ... belongs in the annals of prison fiction along with Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ -- Scotsman

About the Author

Tahar Ben Jelloun was born in 1944 in Fez, Morocco, and emigrated to France in 1961. He is one of North Africa's foremost novelists. Tahar Ben Jelloun's novels include The Sacred Night which received the Prix Goncourt in 1987 and Corruption.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In the very front rank of prison literature 6 July 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This astonishing book stands favourable comparsion with every classic of prison literature you can think of. Transparently written and deeply insightful, the awful conditions of confinement suffered by the Moroccan prisoners chill the blood. The book is translated in such a way that there is no hint that it was not written in English, with not one infelicitous phrase or awkward sentence. Shocking in its simple descriptions of state sadism, the book also describes unemotionally a triumph of the human spirit in the face of unremitting attempts to crush it and replace the minor pleasures of everyday existence available even to ordinary prisoners, -- sunlight, the feeling and sounds of rain, cleanliness and basic cameraderie -- with solitude, insanity and a complete absence of light. This is a book that deserves a much wider readership
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Beauty of the Strong Willed and Faithful 2 Oct 2005
A friend gave me a copy of this book and told me to read it. I did so and found it hard to get into but after two chapters I found a rhtyhm. I read the entire book in one session and could not put it down.
The amazing yet at the same time horrifying descriptions in the book - the humanity shown by the prisoners in a place where humanity no longer existed, the reliance on the self and gifts from heaven, the stages man goes through in isolation and the shock when coming out of it - all presented in a unique and immensely personal voyage. Dignity exudes from the author.
At one point, whilst reading, I was in a torrent of tears and prayed for one of the departed companions in the book. I do not normally cry so easily but this account of one man's life in hell was not an easy affair to read about.
Undoubtably this work has the ability to change ones life.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful read 3 Feb 2006
By A Customer
I loved this book. The translation is smooth and a pleasure to read. The story, based on fact, is both moving and disturbing. You have to question our level of civilization when you read this book. The treatment of the prisoners, and the conditions in which they were kept, are inhumane. The author keeps you with him thoughout - you can feel his dispair.
Wonderfull book
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5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring 7 Oct 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Not a book I would have choosen but read it as a book club choice.
So glad I did, this is a really uplifting book about the strength of the human spirit to cope and survive.
Would highly recommend this book, felt quite humbled by the time I had finished reading it
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 5 Jan 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A previous reviewer described this book as shocking and she is quite right, it is shocking. She also said she was glad she read it. Again, I totally agree. My review is simply to add a bit more background to that so the potential reader can understand why it is so shocking.

The book is basically about the political prisoners from the Moroccan military who took part in the failed coup against the former king. They were incarcerated in a secret prison for over a decade in the desert and endured some of the worst conditions imaginable.

The book is written from a first person point of view (And apparently this has caused some controversy due to the prisoner in question apparently accusing Ben Jelloun of plagiarism but thats another matter) The prisoners are in complete darkness in a single cell where they cannot stand up straight, the are pretty much kept there out of sight and out of mind. The book describes what they endured and it truly was awful (I had memories of watching the film Papillon as a kid) One part that really got me was one of the prisoners who kept his bread in a sack hanging in his cell eating a little at a time suddenly turning ill. It was only when the guards shone light in the cell they realised that the bag was full of cockroaches and he hadn't seen them in the dark!

Ben Jelloun is an excellent writer, this book is extremely easy to read and I have to say its something I find quite remarkable about the author that you can pretty much read his books almost in one sitting, not because they are short of content or anything but simply because they are well written and well put together.

I dont give 5 stars too often but this book deserves it.
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